Australia is a continent of considerable size. Actually, it is the sixth-largest continent and is surrounded by the Indian Ocean.
In this continent, all the wettest and most fertile areas are concentrated along the coastline. The northern coast is tropical and humid, with lush rain-forests and mangrove swamps. A narrow fertile strip along the east and south-east coasts rise to the rocky Great Dividing Range. The highest peaks of this Range are known as the Australian Alps. The Murray River begins there and flows with curves slowly westwards for more than 2,500 kilometres.
And to the west of the Great Dividing Range lies vast rolling plains broken by occasional rocky hills. The landscape here includes shrubs, sparse pasture and dried-out riverbeds. Beyond these plains, a huge plateau covers the Western two-thirds of Australia. Much of this interior is rough desert, a baking hot wilderness of sand, stone and cracked clay. In the south-east, the mountainous island of Tasmania lies about 250 kilometres off the mainland, across the stormy waters of the Bass Strait. However, the south-west coast enjoys warm, dry summers and moist winters.
Australia’s special geographical features provide a number of unique plants and animals. The best known Australian animals are the marsupials which include kangaroos, wallabies, and koalas. The commonest trees include the tall evergreen eucalyptuses and the bright-flowered wattles. The bottle-trees are unique in Australia.
Most of Australia’s economy comes from farming and mining. Although much of the country is too dry for growing crops, the vast grasslands that spread across all the States are ideal for grazing large numbers of sheep and cattle. Crops such as wheat, sugarcane and fruits are grown only on 5% of the farmland, but this is extremely productive and profitable because of modern methods of farming. Besides, the rich deposits of minerals are a major source of wealth for the country. Australia is the only country that is also a continent. It is divided into six States and two areas called ‘Territories’. It includes the island of Tasmania. Each State and Territory has its own government. Canberra is the capital of Australia.
In comparison to Australia’s large size, it has a small population. Most Australians live in a narrow strip of land along the coast and southeast coasts. The interior part of the continent, known as the ‘outback’, is too dry and barren to support the habitation of a good many people.
The first inhabitants of the aborigines of Australia originally came from southeast Asia. The country was discovered by Europeans in 1606 when a Dutch sea captain William Jansz landed on its shores. After that most people came from Europe. It became a British colony in the 1700s. Thousands of people who had committed crimes in Britain were given the choice of either going to prison or moving to Australia. As a result, many Australians are of British ancestry, and the country has maintained strong links with the United Kingdom. Till now the head of the State is the British monarch who is represented in Australia by a governor-general. In recent years, however, a movement to make the country a republic has gathered greater strength.
Now Australia is better known as a land of sunshine, open spaces and lively modern cities.